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Ulster v Glasgow: Patient Kyle McCall now ready to make his mark

By Michael Sadlier

Published 11/02/2016

The image from Oyonnax seems wholly appropriate as, on that day of Ulster's astonishing comeback, his contribution was eye-catching for more than just a high work-rate.

That damp Sunday in early January, Kyle McCall put himself about with gusto, socks familiarly located around his ankles, but what was most noticeable about the 24-year-old loosehead prop was the streak of blood which had seeped down and stained one side of what had once been his white scrum cap.

Bloodied but unbowed, it was emblematic of Ulster's refusal to give up. And that wasn't all as McCall, in this his breakthrough season, scored his first try for Ulster at Stade Charles Mathon as the visitors swept back from trailing 23-0 at half-time to triumph by notching up 24 unanswered points.

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It was merely one game in what has been a rapid rise to prominence this season. After all, McCall started as third choice loosehead prop but then came storming to the head of the queue after making his first start at the Dragons in early November.

"It was just getting an opportunity and trying to take it with both hands," is how McCall explains it all over three and-a-half years after making his debut in the closing minutes of a PRO12 clash at the RDS where he made a notably game-saving tackle in Ulster's nail-biting, and long overdue, win over Leinster in Dublin.

"If you're playing well then you get selected again," he adds of the opportunity offered to him at Rodney Parade three months ago.

"It was about taking that chance and trying to do my best week on week to get better."

This he has done and is in line to make his 10th start this season tomorrow when leaders Ulster come up against current PRO12 champions Glasgow Warriors at the Kingspan.

McCall has certainly needed to be patient. He popped up again in Thomond Park in 2014 when Ulster, with eyes firmly fixed on Europe, sent a weakened team to play a PRO12 game and managed to win with McCall, again, sprung from the bench late on.

"I got 12 minutes or something as replacement hooker but it was a great experience to win down at Thomond Park just as it had been a great experience to have also won at the RDS (in 2013)."

His limited mileage was all banked - he played just once last season at Glasgow in a regulation PRO12 clash and, again, as a sub - and, now back at his preferred position as prop, simply waited for this season's opening to come.

A real defining moment in his rise came six games after his first start when, at Toulouse, McCall managed the considerable feat of being Ulster's top tackler with 21 to his name after the narrow 25-23 triumph at Stade Ernest Wallon.

It was a game where the mobile young prop really showed just how much more he offers other than simply strong scrummaging.

"I love tackling and I love that contact and physicality alongside my work rate," he recalls of that first European game in France.

"I didn't go out (that day) to be top tackler, it was just something that occurred by trying to do the best I could for the team.

"I just wanted to put my body on the line."

And as McCall explains: "I also want to carry ball and be involved in the game. You need to be able scrum first to play at this level, but once you nail that it's about playing eyes-up rugby and hopefully getting the ball in hand."

Scrummaging, tackling and running with the ball. It sounds like Ulster have developed the complete package.

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